47_Rights Group

Mobilizing the masses

One of the most vexing problems for political organizers has been the prohibitive cost of contacting the faithful. It costs at least $3 a person to reach loyalists by phone to get them to act quickly about a hot issue. Email has made it easier, but often gets lost in the vast sea of spam. Jed Alpert has honed the process: targeting mobile phones with text messages, which recipients are much more likely to open and act on. It began when he took a program he had developed to promote Britney Spears—texting her fans to ask them to pay to hear tapes of her reading their horoscopes—and rejiggered it for a People for the American Way push to get members to call their senators about John Roberts's Supreme Court nomination. The result, Alpert says, was "the biggest response rate I've ever had for any campaign." Since then, his New York startup, the Rights Group, has worked for the ACLU, Save Darfur, and the John Edwards presidential campaign. "We're getting people involved at one-tenth to one-fiftieth the cost," he says. One of his coolest efforts: a program that lets you type in your zip code and receive a text message about current local environmental problems—diesel fumes in Manhattan, say—and whom to call to complain.

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